What Does Nemesis Mean

What Does Nemesis Mean

The term nemesis comes from Greek; the literal meaning of Greek nemesis is retribution. In Greek mythology, Nemesis is the goddess of retribution or vengeance. Therefore, this meaning of retribution is still associated with the English term nemesis. But what does nemesis mean in modern usage? This is what we are going to look at in this article. In usage, nemesis has several meanings – all these meanings are related to vengeance or retribution.

Nemesis can refer to a situation where of poetic justice where the good characters are rewarded for their virtues and the bad characters are punished for their vices. This is a literary device that has been used by many authors throughout the history.

The term nemesis is also used to refer to the agent or deliverer of justice who punishes the evil characters. Nemesis is defined as the undefeatable or inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall. Basically, a nemesis is a rival or an archenemy. For example, Harry Potter is the nemesis of Voldemort. Likewise, Snow White is the nemesis of the wicked stepmother and Batman and Joker are nemeses.

Nemesis can be an outside force such as another character or an internal force. The internal force here refers to the character itself; his qualities, feelings, etc. can act as an inner nemesis. For instance, a person’s own pride and arrogance can act as the agent of his downfall.

What Does Nemesis Mean

Goddess Nemesis

Examples of Nemesis in Literature

In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Hamlet he works to cause the downfall of Claudius in order to avenge his father’s murder. Therefore, Hamlet acts as a nemesis to Claudius.

In Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, Frankenstein’s nemesis is the monster he created.

In Shakespeare’s’ “Macbeth”, Macduff acts as the nemesis of Macbeth as he seeks vengeance.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes”, Holmes is the nemesis of Moriarty.

In Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”, Moby-Dick is the nemesis of Captain Ahab.

In Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus”, Faustus’ Nemesis is his pride in his learning and his overambitious nature.

In a literary work, nemesis establishes grounds for poetic justice. Nemesis brings about punishment for evil and wicked characters. Therefore, it teaches an important moral lesson to the readers to develop and refine their characters.What Does Nemesis Mean - image 1

Nemesis – Summary                                                                              

  • Nemesis is a situation of poetic justice where the bad characters are punished for their vices, and the good characters are rewarded for their virtues.
  • Nemesis also refers to the character or medium that brings about this justice; nemesis is the agent of someone’s downfall.
  • In common usage, nemesis is similar to an archenemy or rival.
  • Nemesis also refers to the patron goddess of vengeance in Greek mythology, who brings about wrongdoers’ downfall.

Image Courtesy:

“Nemesis” By Alfred Rethel – 1. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.2. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg (Public Domain) via   

“The combat of Arthur and Mordred” By N.C. Wyeth – The Boy’s King Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s History of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Edited for Boys by Sidney Lanier (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922). Scanned by Dave Pape. (Public Domain)

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